The departure of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors has fueled speculation that Russell Westbrook may leave the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, the star point guard is apparently ticked off at his former teammate and ready for the season to start.
Those words come from Anthony Slater, the Thunder beat writer for the Oklahoman. Slayer notes that “[Russell] Westbrook has given the Thunder no indication that he currently wants out” and is ready to charge ahead with the crew the Thunder have now. While no one views the Thunder as a championship contender with Kevin Durant gone and the Warriors looking so dominant, Westbrook still has intriguing pieces surrounding him in Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, and Enes Kanter.
What does Westbrook want?
But while Russell may be interested in staying with the Thunder at the start of this season, no one knows for certain if he intends to stay beyond that. Westbrook’s contract expires at the end of the 2016-17 season, and there has long been speculation that he may push on to another team such as Boston or the Los Angeles Lakers.
It should be noted that one potential reason for Russell Westbrook to leave no longer exists. Kevin and Westbrook formed one of the most terrifying duos in the entire NBA. But there had always been speculation that Westbrook chafed at being the second dog behind Durant and would want to lead his own team.
Westbrook observed in 2015 that “I’d rather win games and have a chance to win a championship every year” than be on his own. But now Thunder fans are hoping that he might change his mind.
The Front Office Challenge
The Oklahoma City Thunder front office also has to figure out whether they want to keep Russell Westbrook or try to trade him before he leaves.
The entire process is problematic, especially because the Thunder have taken two different tacks with other star players on their team and got burned both times. In 2012, Oklahoma City traded rising guard James Harden to the Houston Rockets for an assortment of assets rather than risk him leaving in free agency. But while the Thunder did get Adams out of the deal, the trade today is viewed as a complete disaster for the Thunder as Harden has become one of the premier players in the league.
And this summer, the Thunder chose not to trade Kevin Durant, hoping that his ties to Oklahoma City and how close they came to a championship would persuade him to stay. But Durant left.
So should the Thunder trade Russell or not? If they think he is going to leave, then the Thunder need to trade him as soon as possible, as teams will give up more assets for a Westbrook who will play for them for at least a full season instead of a few months.
But the recent news that the Thunder are rescinding their qualifying offer to Dion Waiters indicates that the Thunder are currently hoping to offer Westbrook an extension. This is a major gamble. Westbrook has no reason to sign an extension now. Even if he is absolutely committed to the Thunder, he will receive more money if he signs an extension in the 2017 free agency period. So the Thunder will have to wait a season and hope nothing goes wrong for another year.
Westbrook and the Thunder front office are surrounded by a million motives and moves they could all make. Does Russell Westbrook want a title at all costs, or is he loyal to the Thunder and wants his own team? Can the Thunder trust Westbrook to stay, or should they just trade him now?
No one, not even the star and the team, can say how this drama will play out. And speculation will continue to fester as the Thunder and Westbrook decide whether they will stay together or not.
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